Audio Description and OCALI’s #DescriberSquad

Rather through books, personal narratives, movies, or theater; stories impact our lives from childhood on. Stories are a way for us to learn, explore new or unfamiliar ideas, and possibly even develop emotions, such as empathy. Personally, one of my favorite ways to enjoy a story is through theater. It energizes me, compels me to think and be reflective. 

But, what if someone has a negative experience because they cannot access the full story? Barriers exist in many ways that stories are told, especially in videos. Important information is often presented in a visual way that is not also available in the auditory track or cannot be deduced from auditory cues. There might be text on the screen that someone with a reading disability may have difficulty reading. Someone with a visual impairment may hear the noise of an object dropping, but be unsure of what is happening in the video because they did not see the object fall and hit the ground.

A way to remove this barrier is to provide audio description for videos. Audio description (AD) is a recorded narrative or audio track that is added when a video contains visual information that is not naturally included in the audio or explicitly stated by the host or narrator.

The Training

As an organization that works to remove barriers, OCALI is constantly investing in professional development for staff to address barriers and work to implement best practices. In July 2018, a team of three of us were given the opportunity to go to St. Louis to attend the Audio Describer Training provided by the American Council of the Blind. 

With much excitement and anticipation, we boarded the plane to St. Louis and spent three days fully immersed in audio description with a diverse group (from voice actors to stenographers), totaling 18 trainees. It was energizing to see a range of people with a passion to break down barriers and work to increase access for so many.

After valuable instruction, collaborative work, and a final practicum, the three of us returned home with a certificate in audio description and so became OCALI’s very own #DescriberSquad.

Early Process

When you study something new, a field or a topic, it opens you up to a whole new set of ideas, thoughts, and contemplations. After our training and taking a week or so to reflect, the #DescriberSquad quickly realized we had a lot of work to do; work that was not necessarily clear. We also realized we had a lot of questions; questions that were not easily answered with a Google search.

We started by developing a spreadsheet to organize our existing and upcoming video content. During this initial phase, it became apparent just how many people would need to be involved in the audio description process. We needed to work with our colleagues who are creating the content, video producers and editors, the web development team, and most importantly, we had to work collaboratively and consistently among ourselves.

The spreadsheet helped to organize our work and set priorities on which videos would be completed first. But we still needed more. We were constantly asking questions:  How would you describe this? Where do we send the videos when we are done? Is the quality of my audio recording meeting OCALI standards?

As a result of our questions, our next document was the Audio Description Workflow, which delineates the 11 steps from start to finish. It has been shared throughout the organization and serves to help structure our workflow and also answer common questions from colleagues.

All of our early audio description work culminated in what is now the OCALI Guidelines for Audio Description. The document serves as a ‘go-to’ resource; providing definitions, what to describe and how to describe it, and other general information. 

Where We are Now

We have learned so much over the past 18 months. We have made mistakes, realized some inconsistencies, and have also had many successes. Our web development team has recently added the ability to access audio-described videos on our website with ease of access. The #DescriberSquad has provided trainings, both internally and at conferences. Our IT and Media Specialist has an efficient system for audio recordings and video editing. After 38 videos and counting, we have realized both the uniqueness and complexities of our video work as an organization.

If I had to pick one thing that mattered the most in our start with AD, it would be the constant willingness and collaboration. We were never met with “we can’t do that with videos” or “that’s not possible for our websites.” Our colleagues always met us with a willingness to find a solution and an excitement to talk together. We are proud of our work and excited about moving forward and making even more progress.